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Firing Log

ancient kiln | 21st century logbook

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April 15, 2006

Once Fire Raku

Filed under: Firing,non-anagama,Uncategorized — odin @ 4:47 pm

I built a raku kiln 4 or 5 years ago. Alan (you’ll see him below) taught me how to weld and donated some expanded steel. I zipped it up with a MIG welder — the welds are certainly amateurish and a pro would laugh, but it’s held up. Welding is a heck of a lot of fun — I wish I could come up with a good excuse to weld often but alas, that raku kiln has been my one and only time. Here’s the basic setup:

raku kiln basic setup

Today, Rachel (green shirt), Tony (red shirt), Alan (picking piece), stopped by to fire off the raku kiln. Every since building the kiln, it has been living at Alan’s … but certain changes necessitated its move here to the anagama site. Today was its first firing here (discounting the one that didn’t work for lack of a wrench).

opening raku while hot

Alan’s new and unusual color:

alans salmon raku glaze

I lost interest in raku quite some time ago — the results aren’t really what I’m after. I don’t mind white crackle so much but I became disenchanted with bright penny coppers and turquoise blues. Those results are pretty in their way — they merely aren’t what I want. However, I do like the actual orange and red colors in Alan’s new glaze.

Today I recovered some of the raku spark — could I “once fire” a piece? What the heck — no harm in trying. I went into my studio and grabbed something that hadn’t made it into the last anagama firing. It was an unbisqued (I don’t bisque) small slab bowl. I applied some white crackle glaze with a brush to the inside of the bone dry piece, and then set it on the kiln during the others’ firings in the hope it would dry sufficiently. It spent about two hours drying although I had to remove it between each kiln opening.

When Tony, Alan, and Rachel were done, I put mine in the kiln. I decided to raise the height of the shelf so the piece would be more in the middle of the kiln away from the burner. I hoped that would provide an environment a little gentler than it would receive on a low shelf. We set the kiln shell in place and I covered the outlet hole with piece of metal to keep rain off the piece. I decided I’d let the pottery preheat by sitting in the warm kiln with the burner off for 10 minutes. The firing would end the moment we heard the piece break.

The piece didn’t break sitting in the warm kiln, so I turned on the heat a tiny bit and waited for that dull pop of exploding pottery. It never came, so I bumped the heat a tiny bit again. And again. And again. When the paint on the piece of metal started to burn off, I cranked it to a low roar. Still no breaking noise, and the paint crackled into fascinating patterns:

I bumped it up to full throttle. I could see the glaze melting and the piece glowing. After about 70 or 80 minutes, I stopped the burner, Alan and Tony lifted the kiln, and just like any other piece of raku, my once fired bowl went straight into a post firing reduction chamber. I’m in the browncoat (same one I wore to the opening night of Serenity in true geek fashion — I much prefer Firefly though).

opening hot once fire raku

In my impatience, I pulled it out too soon to douse it in water — it was at that point the foot fell off. No matter — I’m confident I can do once-fire-raku again. I won’t ever buy a bisque kiln.

once fire raku, good first try

April 12, 2006

Firing Stages

Filed under: anagama, 6th,Firing — odin @ 11:22 pm

I will close the 6th firing category with this post. It has been two weeks since I closed the kiln. I want to put into words, how I experience the various stages of a firing while the 6th is still fresh in my mind. My hope is to enhance my performance of each stage by being slightly more aware of where I am at in a firing.

First however, let me say that for me, a firing is more than the short period of burning wood in the anagama. It spans several segments — making, preparing, burning, waiting, opening, and reorganizing. In my mind, even though I won’t be loading the kiln again until September, the 7th firing begins tomorrow.


I have great hopes during the time of making and much curiosity about clay and the way it responds to touch, or the way it swirls under my fingers on the wheel, or how it cracks when I pinch it hard. Visions of pots precede my sleep and interfere with my waking duties. I have a sense of hope, tempered by a sense of my actual abilities. The period of making is like late summer — an easy time with fruit and berries everywhere for the plucking. Carefree, careless, and fun. A time for dreams, experiments, and playing. Such vacations never last — for me, about four weeks before the pots go in the kiln is about the time I realize how far behind I am in my preparations.

I must plan more adroitly, even when life seems easy and those deadlines so far away.


The time of preparation is quite uncomfortable. With a dawning realization that I have much to do and less time to do it in than I need, I become tense and preoccupied. I begin to worry about every little detail — do I have enough wood, do I have good enough wood, is the wood going to make ugly glaze? Do I have enough pottery, is it good enough to even stick in the kiln, will it collect any shizenyu? Do I have the ability to fire at all? Will I be able to sleep? Can I get the time off? I perserverate on many details, arguing with myself, wondering what to do. I feel an overriding sense of ineptitude and insecurity.

The last week before the firing is the worst — it’s a typhoon of small details and errands culminating in the actual loading. Loading the kiln is hard beyond I ever imagined it would be. It’s mentally challenging and physically excruciating. I don’t know how to make these words describe the difficulty. It’s half a day laying on brick corners in scrunched up positions reaching into the most awkward positions — and it’s harder than that even hints at.


Quiet stillness — a fire is lit and everything slows to a relaxed pace. Burning wood is a sort of silence. If I sleep enough, it’s the easiest part. I’m still working on the self-discipline to leave the kiln’s side and go to bed — aside from that fault of mine, sticking wood in the kiln for several days is like living in a world without time. At night, all alone, listening to the fire, or frogs singing in the field, or rain and wind roaring against the metal roof of the kiln shed, I feel outside of time — outside the world. I feel silent.


All too soon, the stoking period ends. It is replaced first by pure exhaustion — when I fell asleep after closing up the kiln this last time — my legs felt like they were laughing — to just stretch out on the floor of my studio lounge was a delightful sensation. Quite literally, I fell asleep giggling as my legs expressed their pleasure in their lightened burden.

Following exhaustion, comes a period of … grogginess? It’s a time where I have to try to fit back into the world and start thinking in that other sense again. It’s a hard adjustment to go from a timeless world punctuated by only a handful of events — stoke, make coffee, eat simple stuff, nap, stoke — to one set rigidly against the clock, where deadlines are arbitrarily decided as opposed to dictated by natural conditions. As added insult, waiting to open the kiln is painful — the test is over, the work is graded, and the prof is torturing me by lecturing the class before handing out the grades. Whether the firing is good or bad is already decided, and I can’t even find out till long after the fact.


Opening day — I’ve had my most bitter moments on opening day — and some of my sweetest. I’ve stood there smashing piece after piece after piece because of the utter failure of my technique. I’ve stood there admiring glaze that formed as if by some magical underground force — the kiln god’s hand obvious in the mysterious complexity of surface and sight.

Opening day was a week ago (a disaster but a good one nonetheless). I have broken nothing on purpose. The 6th firing is settling about me now — around the kiln, in the yard, all over the shelves and counters of the studio, as well as in my mind. I’m still taking it in … but I’ve also begun my cleanup/reorganization phase. It isn’t clear to me whether cleanup marks the end of the last firing, or the beginning of the next. I suppose it is mostly about transition.

Tomorrow I begin making pieces. Although I don’t know that the 6th firing has fully ended yet, there’s no question in my mind that the 7th firing’s time of making begins tomorrow.

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Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 Next

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